Australia’s Giant Feral Cats

By Mike Devlin on Sunday, April 27, 2014
177850160
“Nothing’s more playful than a young cat, nor more grave than an old one.” —Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia

In A Nutshell

A disturbing new twist on Australia’s feral cat population has emerged. Already nearly impossible to control and rapidly wiping out native wildlife, the cats have begun growing to a massive size. Reports from across the continent indicate the presence of 20-kilogram (50 lb) beasts that are mistaken for panthers.

The Whole Bushel

It is often bandied about on the Internet just how dangerous Australia is, with its prevalence of creepy-crawlies and great white sharks. However, the most destructive species on the continent isn’t the Belcher’s sea snake or the Sydney funnel web spider (both the most venomous of their kind), but invasive animals from other countries, the kind of creatures you might find on a barnyard—pigs, goats, rabbits, and the like. One of the worst offenders is none other than the house cat.

Although Fluffy sunning herself on the couch might not seem like much of a hunter, domestic cats are killers through and through. Cats were introduced to Australia around 1804, and some 15 years later, they had already established feral populations in Sydney. By the end of the century, they had spread throughout the continent.

Australia, having been separated from the rest of the world for millions of years, had developed a very specialized ecosystem with primitive mammals. With the exception of the dingo (another invasive species) and the wedge-tailed eagle, the cat has no threats in Australia and serves as an apex predator. According to the government, there are approximately 18 million feral cats in the country, killing some 75 million native animals every single day. It is believed that cats have been at least partially responsible for the extinction of several species.

There seems to be very little that can be done about the feral cat problem; they are very elusive and skittish, and are difficult to hunt and trap. In recent years, the scourge has grown ever more frightening as the cats of Australia are growing massive. The largest specimens are approaching 20 kilograms, double the size of a Maine Coon cat.

One cat shot in Gippsland, Australia was reportedly measured over 1.5 meters (5 ft) long. While some of this testimony needs to be taken with a grain of salt, the evidence is mounting that there are indeed some monstrous feral cats prowling the Outback. This would go a long way toward explaining bizarre sightings of ABCs (Alien Big Cats) described as “leopards” or “pumas” such as the so-called “Lithgow Panther.” At a distance, a black cat that big would seem quite frightening indeed.

Show Me The Proof

Australian Wildlife Conservancy: Wildlife Matters
Tetrapod Zoology: Australia’s new feral mega-cats
Department of Environment and Conservation: The spread of the cat, Felis catus, in Australia
ABC: Mega moggies of Arnhem Land prove scourge of bush